The Challenge in Establishing Driverless Regulations

It has been a fascinating couple of months monitoring the evolution of the U.S. federal regulations. In early September, the House of Representatives passed an AV bill with unprecedented bi-partisan support (summary found here). Today, the Senate is developing a similar bill that will soon be going to a vote (summary found here). Despite the strong political support occurring at the federal level, there has been significant push-back occurring from the trucking industry (which was ignored in these bills) and the local and state governments (which have been pre-empted from certain responsibilities).

Instead of focusing on the objections, I do think it’s worth celebrating the historical significance of establishing any federal AV regulations at all. Governments around the world are struggling with how to regulate autonomous vehicles, a constantly-evolving technology. The struggle has been: how can the government establish appropriate protections, while still enabling technology advancement/innovation? I don’t think there’s a perfect answer, but I do commend the U.S. for trying! Moreover, this is a positive step towards avoiding the “patchwork of regulation” that’s been occurring at the state level.

Other governments have taken leadership positions as well. The United Kingdom (UK) established a 14-page Code of Practice for testing on UK roads and public places; the code of practice is non-statutory and developed to promote responsible testing. Estonia is allowing driverless vehicles as long as a driver is available to take over control at any time (source). Germany has established ethical guidelines for driverless vehicles, and Japan is also allowing the testing of driverless vehicles with significant stipulations (source). Finally, Singapore has established regulations that include demonstrating “basic roadworthiness and capabilities by passing safety assessments before they are even trialed on roads.” Singapore is also requiring robust accident mitigation plans, licensed drivers, limited test sites, and logging travel data (source).

Clearly, we’re at the earliest stage of regulatory development for driverless vehicles, but let’s celebrate these government agencies for their leadership. Just about every government entity who released regulations acknowledged that they will need to be adapted as the technology is further developed and understood. Let’s also make sure that the government agencies are getting feedback from all relevant stakeholders (private industry, universities, local and state governments, the disabled community, etc).

Are there other regulatory frameworks worth noting?  Any other industries that provide good examples for the driverless vehicles regulations?  Other countries’ regulations worth celebrating?

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Dialogue is the Path to Success

I’m happy to report that Steve Kuciemba is back with another guest blog post. Steve Kuciemba is the National Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) Practice Leader for WSP USA.  

The other day I was asked by a public agency client about preparing for the connected & automated vehicle (CAV) revolution.  The question was simple: if you could give 3 pieces of advice what would they be?  Here’s what I told them:

#1 – Expect a Long Transition – we’re not going to wake up one morning and all vehicles will be self-driving, there is going to be a considerable transition period where vehicles operated by computers will coexist alongside vehicles driven by humans.  It could be a period of many years, the mix of vehicle automation could vary by time, location, and technology, and the policy issues will run deep and require time to mature.  This will present a number of safety and mobility challenges, and in the coming years the transportation and technology industries will wrestle with them.

#2 – Be Patient/Flexible – a recent report by the Governor’s Highway Safety Association provided some valuable guidance including a 5-point recommendation to (a) be informed, (b) be a player in your state, (c) understand the role of states, (d) don’t rush into passing laws or establishing regulations, and (e) be flexible – this is a new game.  Those five simple points summarize the state of this fast-moving industry and are great advice for anyone looking to understand the role of state and local governments in CAV.

#3 – Be Ready to Dialogue – when companies begin to discuss testing CAV technology and vehicles in your state or city, everyone should be ready to talk.  You can come up with guidelines, you can make check-lists, you can discuss requirements – but at the end of the day there will be a LOT of unique situations requiring simple communication and conversation.   

This last point is critical.  I’ve talked with a number of State DOT’s and Motor Vehicle Administrations about CAV testing on their roadways, and it’s very tempting to immediately dive into drafting rigorous guidelines and legislative requirements.  Let’s welcome this revolution by first encouraging conversation.  Talk through the issues, discuss the safety implications, and agree to communicate continually as the testing progresses.  

Dialogue is the path to success!

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The Importance of Driverless Pilots

Now that I’ve been at EasyMile for over a month, I’ve recognized how important it is for cities and public transit agencies to develop driverless pilots. The time is now!  The technology is here, but so many other important milestones are still catching up.  Here are just a few of the reasons these pilots are so important:

  • Public acceptance: Call your aunt or uncle and ask if they would be willing to get into a driverless vehicle. Assuming they don’t live in Silicon Valley, a typical response is likely: “Those don’t actually exist” or “No thank you!” This technology has massive safety and mobility benefits and yet public adoption may be one of its biggest deterrents. Pilots present an opportunity for people to see and touch the vehicles….and really process how they could integrate it into their lives.
  • Educate stakeholders: I talk to clients everyday who are sold on the technology and its potential, but their Executive Team, Board, or their operations team still need to be convinced. Pilots present a short-term, affordable way to introduce the technology to decision-makers without any significant commitments (especially since no infrastructure changes are needed).
  • Establish partnerships: The driverless technology is introducing many new players into the mobility ecosystem, including insurance providers, universities, parts suppliers, and privacy/cyber-security experts. The sooner the technology is introduced, the sooner an agency can establish relationships with these new players.
  • Navigate regulations: The regulations are being developed right now! This is the perfect time to introduce the technology and actually influence the regulations at both the federal and state levels. These regulating bodies are receiving a lot of input from the technology developers, but they need to hear from the public agencies as well.
  • Integrate w/ transit: Most would agree that the long-term plan is to incorporate driverless vehicles into transit operations, but most transit agencies are struggling to figure out what that looks like and how that happens. By introducing the technology today, transit agencies can start to see how driverless vehicles can be integrated with their existing operations, fare structure, staffing, etc. And this will also help as agencies struggle to incorporate the driverless technology into their short- and long-range plans.

I can’t say enough good things about driverless pilots!  So cities and transit agencies – what are you waiting for?

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Possibly the Most Important, Yet Most Forgotten Driverless Mode: the Driverless Shuttle!

The vast majority of the media regarding driverless vehicles is focused on passenger cars. The challenge with this mode is that people expect their personal vehicles to take them everywhere, which requires a Level 5, fully automated driverless vehicle. Right now – the automakers would be thrilled if they could even achieve Level 4 based on this article: “GM has not been as detailed in its plans for the future as Ford and Tesla, who have both said they want to achieve Level 4 autonomy in the next few years.” The reality is that Level 5 is not going to be here anytime soon.

In the meantime, driverless shuttles are actually operating at Level 4 automation TODAY! This means that driverless shuttles can operate autonomously in constrained environments (e.g, campuses, airports, and employment centers). They are a great way to introduce the general public and government stakeholders to the technology while still serving a purpose and they can introduce the driverless technology via shared rides!

Driverless shuttles also present an immediate opportunity for transit agencies to test out the technology and start to incorporate it into their operations. Driverless shuttles can provide first/last mile solutions or circulator services (amongst other examples) and they can be accessible and “green.” As you can see on EasyMile’s website, there are already great examples happening around the world, including in Paris connecting rail stations, in Singapore at a Botanical Garden, and in Arlington, Texas connecting two sport arenas in Arlington, Texas (the latter starting later this year!).

OK, it’s time to admit that I just switched jobs and I now work for EasyMile, a driverless technology company that specializes in driverless shuttles (check out the EZ10 in action). For that reason, this is an entirely biased (yet true!) blog post!  And now you know who to contact if you’re interested in bringing an EZ10 to your venue!

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The Unintended Consequences of Driverless Vehicles

We often hear about the really positive consequences that are likely to come from driverless vehicles, including safety and improved mobility, and the negative consequences, including potential increased congestion and loss of jobs, but there are a host of other consequences to consider. In fact, they will likely be significant, even if they aren’t obvious or direct.

Motion Sickness – As this article states, there’s a significant likelihood that people will take their eyes off of the road (since they no longer need to focus on driving) and they will experience motion sickness. Could this create a larger market for motion sickness medicines and therapy?

Decreased Organ Donors – As this article states, if driverless vehicles provide the safety benefits that have been promised, there could be a significant reduction in accidents, which will mean a significant reduction in organ donors. Maybe we can also hope for a significant reduction in the people that need the organs? Let’s hope the medical research community keeps up!

Increased Carpooling and New Communities – As this article states, driverless vehicles will likely significantly increase the potential for car sharing and ride sharing. In addition to (potentially) reducing the congestion on roadways, this concept could create entirely new communities and market potential. Imagine happy hours, AAA meetings, and dates happening within vehicles while also taking people to their destinations.

Municipal Budgets – As this article states, many local governments rely on vehicle-related activities for a large portion of their funding. Sales taxes on vehicle purchases, vehicle registration fees, parking fees, traffic violations, and the list goes on… local governments may want to re-think (and diversify!) their revenue sources since their costs are unlikely to change as drastically.

There are countless other examples! Land use (and parking, in particular), identification cards (no more drivers’ licenses!), shopping/retail completely transformed, driving vehicles as a source of entertainment (think race tracks with driving cars available for rent), and the list goes on!  Please comment and share any other indirect consequences worth considering!

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Do We Really Need to Own Driverless Cars?

I don’t even want to own a manual car today, so I certainly don’t want to own a driverless car in the future, but will others want to? The car companies would, seemingly, want us to keep buying vehicles (driverless or not), but we know that many of them are diversifying their offerings so that they can sell mobility services (example article). I think it’s worth exploring why people choose to own cars today:

  1. Convenience – With people’s personal car typically parked within 100 feet of where they are at any time, it really is extremely convenient to “hop in” and go directly to their destination, which likely has convenient (and free) parking as well.
  2. Driving Experience – As BMW’s tagline (“the ultimate driving experience”) suggests, people like to drive: steering around curves, driving fast, cruising down highways, etc.
  3. Status – People enjoy the status associated of owning a vehicle and, especially, with owning a high-end name brand vehicle.

I really can’t put cost on that list because owning a car really is not a cost-effective investment. Besides the cost of purchasing a car, people also need to pay for insurance, fuel, license fees, registration fees, taxes, and maintenance. See this article for an estimate of the cost of owning a car.

In a driverless society, people will likely have two choices: own a driverless vehicle or use a range of mobility options. Owning a driverless vehicle will likely cost a few thousand dollars more than the cost of cars today (source), so we know that won’t be a huge deterrent. The next question is: how will our future driverless society fare against our driving values cited above?

  1. Convenience – People may actually find that mobility options (including a mix of driverless fleets of different types of vehicles, public transit, bike share, etc.) to be more convenient – especially if there are enough options, if there is congestion (likely!) and the price is right (less than the cost of owning!).
  2. Driving experience – Well this is going to go away (in theory) no matter what! Dedicated driving aficionados can head to a race course dedicated to driving manual cars!
  3. Status – I believe that companies offering mobility services will find ways to differentiate their offerings in such a way that people will maintain their perceived status (see my last blog post on driverless service differentiators).

Despite all of these points, I do believe there will be people that will continue to want/need to own their own driverless vehicle. So be it. They may even decide to lease their vehicle out when they don’t need it to make some extra cash (check out all the ways you can already lease out your car today when it’s not in use).  What would it take for you to give up owning a driverless car?

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Driverless Cars are Going to be More Than Just Cars

During my Monday morning commute, I’d love to take a driverless vehicle that includes a spinning class.

On Friday evening, I’d love to take a four wheel drive driverless shared vehicle to Tahoe for skiing.

And if I weren’t already married, I’d consider getting into a match-making driverless vehicle during happy hour on my commute home from work.

These may seem like really farfetched ideas, but auto makers and technology companies entering the driverless vehicle space will need to consider more than just the technology and regulations; they are going to need to differentiate their services. People will not care if they’re hailing an Uber or a Lyft or a Ford vehicle….they will care about the price and speed of the trip, but they will likely also consider the following kinds of service differentiators:

  • Comfort of vehicle (seat comfort, proximity of other people, music selection and volume, etc.)
  • Vehicle amenities (car seats, wheelchair accessibility, desks/tables, tv screens, etc)
  • Vehicle entertainment services (coffee/bar service, exercise options, doctor’s appointments,…the options are endless!)

We’re starting to see signs of this differentiation already today…Uber offers the ability to customize your music choice during your ride (source). Lyft offers its “Lyft Premier” service for people who want to “arrive in style.” And a company called Strack Transportation is offering chauffeured transportation services in Teslas in southern California (source).

We’re also starting to hear about what’s coming…Mercedes-Benz has stated its interest in providing a robotic limousine service (source). Panasonic’s technology inside the Chysler Portal includes facial recognition to provide preferred music, an acoustical bubble around each person, and connections to smart home set-ups (source).  And, of course, all aspects of payment will be integrated, as shown in this article on “Mercedes Pay.”

Driverless vehicles will surely become big money-makers via services. Would anyone like to put their requests in now for their ideal driverless vehicle service?

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